North Carolina jumped out to a 6-0 lead over the Denver Pioneers in their NCAA men's lacrosse national quarterfinal on Sunday afternoon, but it wasn't enough to hold off Denver in the end at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.
With 13 seconds left in the fourth quarter, Eric Law scored his third goal of the game for No. 4 Denver, breaking an 11-11 tie and sending the Pioneers on to their second Final Four in three years.
Denver will face No. 1 Syracuse in the semifinals in Philadelphia on Memorial Day weekend. Syracuse edged Yale, 7-6, in their quarterfinal, and will certainly have its hands full with a confident Denver team
It seemed as though the No. 5 Tar Heels were going to cruise to victory over Denver In the first half on Sunday. North Carolina was running on all cylinders, scoring the first six goals of the game. Denver decided to make a goalie change early in the game, as Jamie Faus replaced Ryan LaPlante in the cage. Denver was rattled on defense and could not keep track of Marcus Holman and Jimmy Bitter as they dodged from all angles.
It was surprising to see, especially due to the fact that Denver scored 19 goals just a week ago when it excelled on defense against a high-powered Albany attack.
At halftime, however, Denver's hall of fame head coach Bill Tierney lit a fire under his Pioneers. Denver took the field with confidence in the second half despite having no success in the first half. The Pioneers began winning faceoffs, maintaining solid possessions and taking quality shots against a tough Tar Heels' defensive unit.
Although Denver began to show life, it still seemed unlikely that DU could climb all the way back.
As the second half wore on, Denver continued to maintain possession and scored in succession. Wesley Berg scored four goals in the game following his eight-goal explosion in the first round. When the Tar Heels' defense began to focus on Berg, the rest of the Denver offense began to find openings.
As Denver controlled the ball more, its defense got some rest and showed signs of life. Faus, the Pioneers' second option in goal, finished with 11 saves in the game and a 68 percent save rate. He was a spark off the bench with clutch saves to prevent UNC from extending its lead in the second half.
In the fourth quarter, Denver outscored UNC, 5-1, to eventually win as Law found the back of the net following a crucial timeout with under 30 seconds to go. Denver was able to get off a quality shot that bounced off the UNC goaltender and Law scored on the rebound opportunity.
It was a game that was thrilling for fans and great for the popularity of the sport. Not only was it nationally televised, but it took place in the Midwest, a first for a quarterfinal round. The game certainly lived up to its billing.
Stay tuned to Bleacher Report for continuous coverage of the NCAA Tournament as we move closer to crowning a champion!
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